Thursday, April 04, 2013
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Mount Pulaski post office will remain open, but ...

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[April 04, 2013]  MOUNT PULASKI -- On Wednesday afternoon, Melvin Arps, manager of post office operations in this region, paid a visit to Mount Pulaski to talk to concerned citizens about the future of their post office. He wasted no time in telling the approximately 60 people in attendance that the post office was not going to close. However, not everything he had to say was considered as good news to the group.

Arps said the post office hours of operation will be realigned. The office will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 to 11 a.m. and from 1:30 to 4 p.m. The Saturday hours for the office will be 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Mount Pulaski residents had received a survey about what they wanted to see happen with their post office. Arps said the Postal Service sent out 1,051 surveys and received back 377. Of those, the large majority said they wanted to see the hours at the post office realigned. Eight surveys actually indicated they wanted to see the post office closed.

One member of the audience said that in the survey there was no option for leaving everything as is, which is what she would have preferred. Arps said that was because leaving everything "as is" is not an option for the Postal Service; changes have to be made.

Another person in the group asked why the hours had been changed and how that would affect the postal carriers and workers. Arps said the hours were reduced to six to trim costs, but it would still be an eight-hour job with no changes at all for carriers.

The response came back from the audience that in reality there wasn't much being trimmed. It was noted that while the noontime closure was longer than in the past, the post office was opening earlier. Arps commented on the Saturday hours, but was told that the post office is already open only two hours on Saturday.

Arp was asked why the post office still was required to prepay its pension fund. The person asking wondered if being able to stop that would help the financial position of the post office. Arp said the prepaid pension program was a big issue. He told the group that right now the pension fund has enough in its reserves to pay the pensions of postal workers who haven't even been born yet. He added that the Postal Service has approached Congress about this, but they will not be swayed.

Another audience member then confirmed with Arps that the prepaid pension plan is a big part of the post offices debt issues, and he confirmed that was true. She then asked what the citizens could do to help in that area, and he said simply: "Write your congressmen."

Someone else in the group then asked why the Postal Service was forced to do this. Arps said the rules were written way back at a time when the Postal Service had large sums of money in their coffers. He said the Postal Service was very profitable then, and putting the money into a pension plan made good sense; however, things have changed.

Arps noted that first-class mail is dwindling thanks to the Internet. He said email communication, online banking and online bill paying have eliminated a large percentage of first-class mail. Reducing hours and eliminating Saturday delivery of first-class mail makes sense to the post office because the volume is not what it used to be.

However, some business owners in the group had issues with that. They voiced concerns over those who do still use traditional mail services to pay their bills. They told Arps that slowing down the mail delivery system would slow down their income flow. One person noted that if people wait until a bill is nearly due to mail in the payment and the Postal Service delays delivery, by the time the payment actually arrives at the business, it is late.

Another person in the audience said that in reality the Postal Service wasn't saving anything by eliminating delivery. She noted that when first-class mail is not sorted and delivered on Saturday, then the mail to be sorted and delivered on Monday will increase in volume and take more time. She took her example a step further and said that if there were also a Monday holiday involved, then by Tuesday there would be a massive amount of work to do.

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The Mount Pulaski city clerk also weighed in, saying the change in first-class mail would have an effect on the billings she sends out for the village. She anticipated there would be more delinquent payments in the future because of the changes in delivery of mail.

Mount Pulaski Mayor Jim Fuhrer also expressed concern for the senior community, saying the hours may make it more difficult for them to send and receive their mail. He also noted that there are some working people who need to transact business such as buying postage on their lunch hours, and that will not be possible with the new hours.

Arps was also asked if Mount Pulaski might be in line to take over services for some of the surrounding post offices if they close. He said he didn't know.

He was asked if any of the area post offices, such as Latham or Lake Fork, was going to close.

He said at this time there are no closures taking place in Logan County.

He told the group that decisions to close post offices or not are being made by a committee of postal employees who look at the community size and consider what is being returned in the surveys.

Arps was asked how these changes would affect rural carriers.

He said the changes would not affect them. He said rural carriers work under a different program than post office employees. They will continue to run as they always have.

It was then commented that the only real changes taking place were in the actual post office building.

Arps said that was correct. He also noted that the lobby of the post office, where boxes are, will still be accessible 24 hours a day.

He was asked why the postal service felt a 2.5-hour lunch break was needed.

Arps said it was done that way in order to cut the hours of service to six.

He was asked how much money the Postal Service would save doing this. And, he said he didn't know.

He was then asked why things couldn't just be left alone. And he said, "I wish I could answer that."

As the discussions neared an end, Arps was asked how the Postal Service was really planning on saving money.

He said there are different "categories" of postal workers. As time progresses, when higher paid postal workers leave, they will be replaced with postal workers in the lower categories at lower rates of pay.

Finally, one audience member asked how the village could go about appealing the decisions that have been made. Arps said they could do that on-site with him, and he will take their appeal requests to the committee.

In the end, it appeared that while the post office will remain open, the changes are not being well-received by local residents and business owners. After the meeting many stayed behind to talk one-on-one with Arps about the situation.


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